Sweet Talk with Chef Dana Herbert
Chef Dana Herbert, baker and proprietor of Delaware-based sweet shop Desserts by Dana, has more up his sleeve than sugar. This genuine family man and successful business owner is an accomplished chef — his most recent victory named him the winner of TLC’S Cake Boss: Next Great Baker. We sat down with the "Sugar Daddy" of Delaware to chat about all things sweet and the hottest dessert trends around:
The Daily Meal: Tell us a little bit about your history and getting into baking.
Dana Herbert: It started by watching grandma in the kitchen. She's a really good cook and I would wait for her to slide me some leftover cookie dough and or the beater from the mixer when she was making cake. In high school, I loved the food classes. After graduating, I went on the University of Delaware where I loved the Hotel Restaurant Program they had. We had to do some work in the Vita Nova Restaurant with Joe DiGregorio and Debbie Ellingsworth. I loved it and learned a lot from them. From there I went on to Johnson & Wales University and got a degree in Culinary and an additional one in Pastry.
TDM: What do you do to keep up on the hottest dessert trends?
DH: You have to read a lot of magazines, look at new stuff on the Internet or TV, go out to restaurants, and develop new things yourself.
TDM: What are you noticing the trends are revolving around, aside from seasonal bites?
DH: Aside from seasonal bites, it's truly a mini desserts party. What I mean by that is reinventing some of the classics we remember as kids and giving them some twists and presenting them in the mini form. Small and eclectic comfort foods. They go over wonderfully at events.
TDM: Tell us a little bit about touring for the diabetic cause with Novo Nordisk. Why this tour, is it close to your heart?
DH: Diabetes is a big deal in America. It's often a disease that some people don't realize they may have and or refuse to acknowledge. I got into it because of family and purpose. My brother is a type 1 diabetic and my grandparents [have] type 2. As they say, all things roll downhill so I wanted to catch ball on the hill and be an example to them as well, develop some healthy recipes, and show America how to make smarter choices. We teach everything in moderation and proper portion.
TDM: Tell us a little bit about your experience winning Next Great Baker. What has it meant to your career?
DH: Winning and being tutored by Buddy was definitely a plus. Since then my career has catapulted, from working with Novo Nordisk, James Beard celebrity chef tour, bakery products in the Kenny Family ShopRites of Delaware, and the growth of my own bakery. It's all been positive. Being on TLC's Cake Boss: Next Great Baker was a surreal experience. To be honest, I miss that rush sometimes. I worked with a lot of great people and we learned from each other as well. Every person has a gift and to be there and see them in their elements was amazing. You learned a lot about yourself as well as what you were truly capable of.
TDM: What is the most surprising ingredient you ever used in a pastry?
DH: Possibly jicama. It marries well with almost any cobbler or streusel tart, and gives them a little crunch and texture.
TDM: How do you challenge yourself in the kitchen?
DH: Really on the sweet and savory side it is to come up with something new. Something that blurs the lines between what is savory and what is considered sweet.